My first job out of college was with a large high-tech company. As a 23-year-old, I was sent on a business trip to another office the company had across the country and stayed in a motel for several nights. In the middle of the last night in the motel, I was awakened suddenly by a man strangling me by the throat.
I needn’t describe the attack in detail for the purpose of this essay. I believed he was going to strangle me to death, and at one point he seemed to be considering raping me. I asked him to stop, and he suddenly said that he was in the wrong room, let me go and dashed out of the room. He left a handkerchief on the bed.
The next morning, I went to the office of the colleague I was working with, a male, and reported the incident. He called the police, and I gave a statement and the handkerchief to the policeman, a male. Upon return to my home office, my boss, a male, said that I needed to meet with the company psychiatrist. Being a naïve, trusting person, I agreed. After describing my experience to the psychiatrist, he asked me, “Gail, did this really happen?”
I continued working in my job, which involved great responsibilities for such a young person. I received praise for my performance and accomplishments. However, just seven months after the attack in the motel, I resigned from the company.
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When I submitted my resignation, my boss asked me whether it had anything to do with what had happened the previous summer. I said no. I was quite young and was not aware of the connection.
Now, many decades later, in the midst of the national awareness of abuse that women suffer in the workplace, I want to say to you that there are subtle ways that harassment takes place.
I believe that the policy of that company to require me to see a psychiatrist in the first place, who then expressed doubt in my story in the second place, was systematic abuse forced on me that actually did lead me to leave the company. I recognized this only recently.
If I had been a man in that same situation, would my employer have put me through the same abuse?
This is just one story of many. These were simply the outward and visible symptoms of the inner dialogue and judgment applied against women. When are men going to show up and make sure these abuses stop? When will employers seriously examine their culture and policies affecting employees?
Gail Chandler Hawkins is retired and has been a Boise resident for 30 years.